On the afternoon of November 30, 1993, the NFL announced the Jacksonville Jaguars as its 30th franchise, and on that day, Wayne and Delores Weaver began what would become an 18-year tenure as the franchise’s owners. On Wednesday, January 4 – three days after the Weavers’ 17th season as the Jaguars’ owners – the sale of the team to Illinois-businessman Shahid Khan and his wife, Ann, is expected to be finalized. As the Weavers prepared for their final days with the franchise, they sat down with jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser to look back and discuss their time with the team. This is the conversation with Wayne Weaver . . .
As we sit here, your shelves are half empty and boxes are half-packed outside your office. Looking around, it suddenly feels very real, this idea of you no longer being the Jaguars’ majority owner. That can’t be an easy thing . . .
It does feel strange. It’s kind of reality. When you look around and see it, you know there’s no turning back. What’s going to be really hard is this (points to the walls in his office) was my office in Nine West. These were all windows and I had them take the paneling out. I had them add some and cut some down, but this is from 1978 – all the furniture, everything. It’s really hard to not reflect back and say, ‘Boy, it really has been a great 18 years.’
And as you’ve said often in the last month, it’s the people you’ll remember . . .
There have been so many people who have been involved, and many have gone on to bigger and better things. At the recent owners meetings (when the sale of the team was approved in Dallas), Shad was saying, ‘You guys are the Harvard Business School of the NFL.’ At the meeting, people would come up to us and I’d say, ‘This young man used to work for us.’ He said, ‘You guys have people working at a lot of clubs in the NFL,’ and we do. It does make you reminisce.
As you go through this last month and eventually final days, you must gain a big-picture perspective on what you’ve meant to people who have come through here . . .
It’s more what people have meant to the organization, and their contribution to the organization. When you build something like this, it takes a lot of people and takes a lot of contributions. Some you learn from that weren’t exactly the way we wanted to do it or that was the right way to do it, but they were still people you have relationships with and you have to move on.
And every season, whatever the final record, there are still moments and times you remember that stand out in the memory bank.
Absolutely. Look at the first eight years with (then-head coach) Tom Coughlin. It was our most successful time, but we didn’t do everything right and I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from (then-Vice President of Football Operations) Michael Huyghue’s style of running the salary cap versus me being a little naïve about all of that coming in. It was not until the late 1990s that I realized we were getting to a point where we couldn’t keep spending like we were spending. By that time, honestly, it had caught up with us. You can’t hide from reality. A lot of people like to spin it, but the main thing is you have to learn from those things and we did.
You can’t talk about your time with the Jaguars without talking about Tom Coughlin. He really defined the organization in the early years . . .
If hindsight you could change, I’ll be honest with you: I probably would have never changed Coughlin. I would have tried to have Tom take a step back and just be the coach. I thought about it, but I didn’t think Tom would do it. I thought Tom’s pride would never allow him to take a step back and me take the general manager’s position and all power and say, ‘Go coach the football team.’ He did that in New York, but I thought it would hurt his pride too much.
But as you said, what an impact he had on the organization – a longstanding impact.
If you remember, my three short list names I had narrowed it down to were (Mike) Shanahan, (Tony) Dungy and Tom. I hired Tom because I felt he was more autocratic and I felt that not knowing anything about this business I needed somebody where I could say, ‘You set the stage here. You build the platform we have to build this franchise around.’ I felt he would be the best guy to do it and as it turned out, he was the best guy to do it. We had tremendous success. Our draft choices were probably better than the average team at the time. That was Tom’s work ethic. He was very involved and he was a good evaluator. He held people accountable to develop those players.
Overall, this is a franchise that made six playoff appearances in 17 seasons, and competed for several others. There has been a record of success during that time.
I’m proud overall of what we accomplished here. I’m disappointed, because I do think you can win (a Super Bowl) in this league a lot sooner than 18 years and we didn’t do it. I have to be honest with myself. We didn’t get it done.
Throughout the process of the sale – and for many years prior – you have been vocal and determined that the Jaguars would remain in Jacksonville. That was perhaps the major factor in the timing of the sale and the decision to sell to Shahid Khan. At what point did it become very important to you to make sure this franchise lasted in Jacksonville?
It’s always been important. When we dropped out of the (expansion) race in 1993, I maybe had a chance to get involved in St. Louis or maybe buy the Patriots. I had made a commitment to Jacksonville and I said, ‘I’m not going to run out of town and go to some other city.’ I made a commitment to Jacksonville and stuck to that commitment. Over the years, it became very important. As we built our franchise and had some success, the community embraced us from Day 1.
Do you remain convinced it will work here?
Yes. You know why it works in Pittsburgh? They have been there 80 years. They have grown seven, eight generations of fans. Wherever they are in the world today, they are Pittsburgh Steelers fans. You have a much larger percentage of the population who are avid Steelers fans because they’ve grown up Steelers fans and they’ve grown their families up Steelers fans.
Do you sense Jacksonville’s base is changing, that it’s building toward that sort of established base you see in a city such a Pittsburgh?
I do. I had many people 27 or 28 years old walk up to me at the Atlanta game (on December 15) shake my hand and say, ‘You changed my life. Thanks for the 18 years.’ You can’t beat that feeling, because you know you changed this community. Those 27- and 28-year olds are people who were nine and 10 when the franchise began. They’re the first generation.
You had business savvy when you started the Jaguars and you had a vision, but did you realize when you got involved in the NFL just what you were signing on for?
No. No. No. I had no clue, just like if you see Shad – he has built a huge, dynamic business with 13,000 employees, but you could see (his surprise) when we walked out onto the field in Atlanta. There were a lot of people with Jaguars jerseys and a lot of them had good seats. They were yelling, ‘Thanks, Wayne and Welcome Shad.’ There were signs saying, ‘Welcome, Shad.’ They were wearing mustaches and his comment was, ‘This is like being a rock star.’ I said, ‘Shad, you’re just getting a taste of it.’ I was running a big business in New York City (before the Jaguars), but you were a big fish in a small industry. You didn’t walk down the street and have people say, ‘There’s Wayne Weaver.’
There have been ups and downs during your tenure, but through all of the positives and the negatives that any NFL owner is going to get, it sounds as if you’ve enjoyed it.
I have. I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve been able to accomplish in life. People say, ‘How in the world can you walk away from this?’ It’s hard, but I’ve never let the NFL define who I am. I’m still the guy who grew up in a corporate world from the lowest rung to the top. I’m still the guy who started two companies – well, bought one that had three stores and that has 340 stores now – and started from scratch with Nine West. Then, I came here. I know who I am. I know what my values are. And I’m honest enough to say some of the things I’ve done I didn’t do as well as I wish I’d have done it. The mistakes I made here will help me again and will help me help Shad.
Moving forward, what have you told Shad the keys to this process will be?
What you have to do is draft well and get the right coach. That’s what I said to him.
The sale is expected to go through on January 4. What will January 5 be like? Have you thought much about it?
It will be hard. I’ll probably go play golf and will probably play lousy. It will be a hard day, but the hardest will be as time goes along. I know I’ll think, ‘Why did I do this?’ but I’m at peace with it and I know there’s no turning back. But I’m still young and healthy. I’ll figure out something else.